I started writing this post after Crystal Palace match which we won comfortably. A 2-0 score line, an audacious Giroud goal and a clean sheet. Things looked fine (sort of) and people were again talking over Arsenal still being title contenders.
I am posting this now after 3-3 draw with Bournemouth. For those who have not followed the match, Bournemouth was ahead 3-0 by the hour mark (yupp). Alexis Sanchez started the Arsenal’s comeback in 70th minute and managed to complete it by 92nd minute with help of one more injury time goal by Olivier Giroud. The script is pretty standard, isn’t it? Get into a hole dug by you and then pull yourself out.
I did not watch the match. But I read that Olivier Giroud was celebrating the injury time leveller with a new kind of celebration- the scorpion kick goal. And his team-mates were urging him to get back to the centre line and go for one more as around 4 minutes were still remaining. I read that Alexis Sanchez threw away his gloves and had his face covered by hands as he again saw his team slipping away in a familiar way in a very familiar kind of scenario at full time. This is his 3rd season here and he has seen quite a lot. Arsenal did not win the match and Bournemouth is no Manchester City. This should have been an easy win, with all due respect to Bournemouth and manager Eddie Howe. The Christmas schedule was announced six months ago. Not fair to blame it.
Sanchez looks dejected
The debate whether Arsene should leave or continue is not new and not baseless either, as we are seeing every week. Earlier, we did not have world class players. Today, there should not be an excuse like that. Sanchez, Ozil, Mustafi, Koscielny, Xhaka all are regular nationals. They have done quite a lot in their national career. So what stops them from doing the same at Arsenal? You might want to kill me but I believe it is the head coach.
I think it is time for Wenger to say goodbye. He has done a lot for the club, given almost entire of his coaching career and two decades is hell lot of time. But there comes a time when a man needs to take a call. And this is Arsene’s time to take the call. And there is a very easy (in my humble opinion) explanation for the same.
The truth is that Arsene is not able to cope up with the younger generation of the managers. He is an old lion who has seen his glory days but now the time has come to concede ground to the younger and fierce ones. He can choose to fight but chances of his winning are less. He may come up on the top in a couple of those battles but odds of his being embarrassed are higher.
The difference here is that this is not jungle where you can lose, go and sit in wilderness and lick wounds while you contemplate the next step. This is Premier League football with lots of passion and money at stake. Fans are breathing down your neck and media is questioning every decision, even the choice of over coats. And seeking wilderness is not just possible. Either perform or perish is the norm in today’s world, unless you are Arsene Wenger.
Wenger signed for Premier League when he was 46. He was young, fearless and his football philosophies were sharp and fast. Football at that time was not at this pace. He came and took Premier League by storm. He signed players, converted wingers to strikers and voila! Everything was working for him. Fans were drooling, fellow managers were cursing and press was having a gala time. He was so good that even Sir Alex Ferguson conceded ground to him, although he regained it eventually.
Almost a decade later, never-seen-before money signed Jose Mourinho to manage Chelsea and football was never the same from that point. He was 9 years younger then Wenger and had just won Champions League with a club from a country outside of Europe’s big 4. And he had a swagger about him. It was time for him to make people bow in front of him. Arsene and many others kept on complaining about the money, then and now, but the truth is, till date, even when finances are pretty much on the level field; Arsene has defeated Mourinho just once in an irrelevant Community Shield match.
Arsene’s record against other ‘young’ managers in the world is not exactly pretty. You may find a win here or there against Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola, Luis Enrique but as a whole, it paints a bad picture. And I can only deduce one thing from all this blah-blah- Arsene has not evolved. He is behind the curve and the sooner he admits this, the better it is for him and the club he loves.
Do you remember the last time when Arsenal played with a formation other than 4-2-3-1? Or when we were behind 2-1 in 75th minute, Arsene might have taken a DM off and made 2 upfront? There might be rare occurrences but frankly, I do not remember. When we are losing, the formation remains same but the reshuffling of players’ positions is done. Any message sent through the head coach, I seriously doubt that. We have always played with one formation for quite long. When we are winning, nothing matters. It is the losses that uncover the cracks. I seriously doubt that before a particular match, Arsene even tells his players how to hassle the opposition. He has one philosophy- score more than the other team. Letting got 4 is ok if you are scoring 5. More often than not, we are witnessing only one side- the letting in. The reason is not that hard to see- teams know how Arsenal are going to line up and they find the flaws. How to score and how not to concede becomes comparatively easy when the other team is not preparing tactically.
Arsene Wenger has always been an eternal optimist. He buys couple of world class players, mixes them with whole lot of youngsters with potential and throws them into a formation, hoping that his players will conjure some magic with the ball and will score 3-4 miraculous goals. Every slick pass will come off; every counter attack will be lethal and shots on goal will be converted. And all that with a backline of Squillaci and Djourou as centre halves. If this is not optimism, then I don’t know what is.
I will be very glad to be proved wrong but I do not think Arsenal have in them to win the title. May be we can again see a run of 15 undefeated games from here after some soul searching against the Bournemouth draw but championship looks far off. I don’t know how Arsenal is preparing for the next match but I know one thing- Wenger is hoping his squad can motivate itself.
At this time, I do not know who will be his successor. Hell, nobody knows whether the boardroom is looking for a successor. Or a top 4 finish will add 2 years to Arsene Wenger’s rein at Arsenal. To be honest, I will take anyone as his replacement. I am kind of getting bored seeing Arsenal play these days. I will accept anyone who is young and willing to make changes and take tough decisions. But the team, the players and the fans need a new face on the touchline. Someone who is more animated and does a lot more than just complaining to fourth officials about silly shoulder pushes.